"We are committed to finding the best candidates to fill our vacancies, and while we were impressed with your education and experience, you were not among the most highly qualified. We will keep your resume on file for .... "
These are the words that have lately come to define my life. As my job application total nears 1,000 over the past two years, these e-mails are tougher to swallow than even the silence from the majority of employers. Why?
Because I'm losing sight of what "most highly qualified" means.
It seems to me that the most highly qualified candidate is the one who: has X degree, as required by the job description; has X years of experience; demonstrates proven results; tailors the cover letter to show knowledge of an organization; responds enthusiastically and promptly to opportunities; speaks politely and pleasantly; serves with passion; and seeks to stay in constant personal and professional growth.
That's what most job descriptions ask for, anyway. Yet over and over again, when I meet or usually exceed those expectations, an employer won't even give me the time of day. They respond with silence until several weeks later when, if they are courteous enough (and most employers are not these days), they inform me the position has been filled because I am not among the "most highly qualified." This has been true for everything from retail sales jobs to data entry to entry-level newspaper reporting (which is SUPER weird because that is, specifically, what my degree is in) to the obvious long-shots I've applied for in desperation.
I'm running out of enthusiasm here, to say the least. If an employer doesn't want what they say they want, then how am I ever supposed to raise myself to the ranks of the most highly qualified? If they won't talk to someone with the degree, experience, and passion of a gifted soul like myself, then who ARE they talking to? (And for the record, many jobs where I truly believed I could make an incredible contribution have been filled only to be reposted in the following six months. If only they'd hired me the first time....) And why is it that no community service, volunteerism, initiative, devotion, or achievement matters any more?
These questions keep me up some nights. Too many nights. Because while a job will never define me, it speaks a lot to the lingering questions I have about other things - the way the world works, my value, the blessings of God's gifts, and all the little things I have always felt were leading to something bigger. Where is my something bigger? My purpose? My place in this world?
And after I let myself ruminate on these questions for far too long, I finally turn to the only Boss who matters.
What, Lord, can make me "most highly qualified'?
The question is more than one of meeting an employer's needs, blowing a boss right out of the water with my passion and enthusiasm and work ethic. It is rooted most deeply at the center of myself. Because oh, how easy it might be to fall victim to the trap that says, "Conform. Now. Mold yourself in the image of a model employee for whatever company you're applying to. Show them what they want to see."
To an extent, I think we all do that. I know I'm guilty. But at a deeper level, I am also aware of when I'm going too far outside my heart, contorting my spirit in a way that I could never maintain - or if I could, would lose more of myself than I'd gain even in worldly measures. Maybe that's my downfall: that I refuse to sacrifice the spirit and beauty of God in my life for anything, even a job, even a job where I know I could make huge contributions to an organization and meet my own objectives of continuing in growth and service.
So I fall into prayer. Lord, what makes me most highly qualified? Or...conversely, God, what keeps me short of that distinction? Is there some offensive way in me that I'm not seeing? If so, show me. Purify me. Teach me a new way. If not, give me the strength to hold on, to stand firm in faith, and to wait patiently for whatever You are doing here.
I'm not so naive as to believe I'm God's gift to any employer. I'm not perfect and many days, I'm not even great. What I always am is honest. Real. Sincere. I'm always going to be my simple, basic self who is happier serving in silence than demanding attention. I'm always going to be more comfortable in a place that provides not only growth but stillness, the opportunity to shine but the demand that I not take the credit or the attention. That's odd for someone gifted in communications and drawn to outreach, public relations, strategy, and media. I don't see the two as opposites, though. I believe it is entirely possible to stay humble, centered in Spirit, while not being afraid to risk and put myself out there for the duties of my work - the work that calls so passionately to my heart.
Back to this prayer, which comes more frequently with each passing day and with each rejection (and the rejections come often, seemingly en masse). The e-mails all seem to carry one message, the one that tries to sneak into my mind when I least expect it. It is the message that says: "Even though you are pretty much perfect according to what we say we want, we know you and you suck. You are not an exceptional candidate. You are not skilled or qualified or even close to the model employee we seek. There is some fatal flaw in you, and we're not interested in stepping on that land mine. You're too much of a liability and not enough of an asset...." and the million other little voices that try to capitalize on these moments of failure and rejection.
But there is one voice much stronger, the Voice that has been speaking my whole life - whether I've been listening or not. He is the One Who says: "You are beautiful. You are talented. I have given you the greatest of My gifts, designed speficially for you and the place I've created for you in this world. And I HAVE created that place. There are none left homeless in My plan; there is something so beautiful and perfect and special for you that you wouldn't believe Me if I told you right now. Your gifts are incredible. Your words are blessed. Embrace the gifts I've placed on your heart. Embrace what you know is from Me, what I am doing in your life even now. Even when you don't understand or your patience falls short, know that I am still working. Your gifts will not go to waste. You will not be wasted. I am getting ready to use you. Mightily. Powerfully. I will use you in this world. Just watch and see.
"Because you ARE among the most highly qualified. I, the Most High, declare it."
And my heart is drawn to His Word and the qualifications He has laid out.
...those who realize their need for God.
...those who mourn.
...those who are gentle and lowly.
...those who are hungry and thirsty for justice.
...those who are merciful.
...those whose hearts are pure.
...those who work for peace.
...those who are persecuted because they live for God.
...those who take on the very nature of a servant, making themselves last.
...those who give up their life in pursuit of the Eternal.
...those who are perfect, even as Christ is perfect.
Obviously, then, it is just my ego that gets in my way! Just kidding. I'm not saying I'm perfect or that I'm somehow holier or more devout than the guy standing next to me. With Christ by my side, that would be blaspheme. But what I'm saying is that these are the guides of my honest heart, and they shine boldly through when I am able to push aside ego and pride and the temptations of the world. That's becoming easier to do with each day, as I see the fruit of faithfulness and righteousness and God revealed in my life.
As these principles take hold in my heart and my life, as my footsteps soften and my voice pauses to reconsider its words and my hands still in gentleness (not perfectly, but getting there), I've got to say that there is no greater gift than this nature, this divine presence that comes from discipline and obedience. Truly, as these transformations come boldly into my life and I'm more comfortable than ever with who I am and waiting patiently in God, with the confidences and assurances He reminds me of every day, with His answer to prayers and comfort in disappointments...I am nothing less than most highly qualified.
For just about anything.
Maybe my degree in communications somehow doesn't qualify me for a communications job. Maybe my background in psychology leaves me a few credits short of legitimacy. Maybe years of experience in the industry isn't sufficient to demonstrate quality or expertise. Maybe a track record of volunteerism and service counts for diddly. Maybe fiery passion and enthusiasm ruffle the feathers of a human resources directer - the gatekeeper for all good work - or comes off as fake or contrived. Maybe some as-yet undiscovered hangup stands between my qualifications and those "most highly qualified."
But that's just what the world says. In my heart, I have no option but to hang on to the truth:
That God is Who He says He Is. That He has never lied to me and will not start now. That He has granted me incredible gifts that He WILL use. That He works every day softening my spirit and comforting my heart. That He stands beside me even in the rejection that says I'm not good enough and whispers that, indeed, as far as He's concerned...
I AM most highly qualified.